It’s common sense that your property–like your house, car, or cash–cannot commit a crime. But under a process known as civil asset forfeiture, your property can be treated as a criminal, giving law enforcement the power to seize it when a crime is suspected.

In a new report, Heritage legal expert John Malcolm explains this outdated practice: 

Civil asset forfeiture is based on a fiction, albeit one of ancient lineage, that property can be guilty of a crime and thereby forfeited to the sovereign regardless of whether any individual is ever charged with (and much less convicted of) a crime related to that property.

These laws, originally intended to take the fruits of crime away from the perpetrator, have gone too far and are now abused by some in law enforcement. Prosecutors need only to demonstrate a “preponderance of evidence” to justify a seizure, while a criminal conviction requires proof of guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Mere suspicion is enough.

Those whose property is taken must then prove their property was not involved in a crime. In many cases it’s more expensive to contest a seizure in court than to allow the seizure to stand.

Malcolm gives examples of innocent Americans whose property was taken from them on mere suspicion of a crime. Two dairy farmers in Maryland, for instance, had more than $60,000 taken from their bank account because their deposits looked like those used by criminal money launderers. And in Philadelphia, several homeowners’ houses may be seized because their family members–not the homeowners themselves–conducted drug transactions on their property.

What do you think of this practice? Tell us in the comments. 

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